How To Know If You’re Non-binary

15 September 2021

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Most folks don’t just wake up one day and think, “I’m nonbinary!” But those who do... we’re jealous. It’s normal to be uncertain or have fluctuating feelings about gender that may never completely resolve. Here is some perspective and tips from somebody who’s been there before. This article is part 2 of our nonbinary series authored by Elliott Ennis.

Figuring out your identity can be tricky, especially when it’s sometimes stigmatized. After all, how do you KNOW?

Try not to get hung up on being 100% certain

Very few people are when they’re still questioning, or even years later. Remember, you’re the only one that can define your gender. Although nothing is universal, many nonbinary and trans people do have some pre-coming out experiences in common. In this post, we’ll discuss some of those experiences and give you four steps for living your most authentic life. If you missed part one, where we covered some nonbinary basics, check it out here!

It’s not unusual for nonbinary people to feel some vague discomfort around gender

It might be difficult to pinpoint, but pay attention to when it happens and look for patterns. Maybe it’s more noticeable in situations like a girls’ night or bachelor’s party but not in a mixed-gender group. Some feel like they’re just putting up with the pronouns they’re used to or doing things “meant for” their assigned gender out of habit, rather than desire.

Even if they don’t say it aloud, many might not like being seen as a man or woman but prefer to look more ambiguous or enjoy taking on non-traditional gender roles. At the end of the day, you know yourself better than anyone and get to define your own life.

Yeah but, what Next?

So, you’re thinking you might be nonbinary. What happens now? If you’re happy with how things are in your life, you don’t have to change anything. It won’t make you less nonbinary. Coming out, along with the rest of these steps, are optional and might change depending on the situation. Approach them with curiosity and be open to your perspective shifting over time.

1. Coming out

Coming out can be scary. It can also be really liberating and help those closest to you see a more complete version of the person they love. Some like to come out in person, while others prefer putting their thoughts in writing. Whether you want it to be a casual discussion or take a more serious tone, you get to be in control of the conversation.

Accepting that not everyone might be supportive can be intimidating. However, the people who love you do want you to be happy and healthy so emphasizing this is a part of that goal is a fantastic place to start. Don’t let anyone’s opinion of you keep you from being honest about who you are.

2. Pronouns

A lot of nonbinary people use singular “they” pronouns since they’re a good alternative to “he” or “she” usually used in English. Luckily, this has been gaining popularity in recent years! It might feel clumsy at first, but it gets easier with practice. Promise!

Did you know we use singular they pronouns already, without realizing it. Imagine you’re working at a store and notice a customer has left a cell phone. You might say to a coworker “I really hope they come back for it! Let’s put it in the lost and found for them.” Using “they” doesn’t feel weird at all in that situation, right? In fact, it’d be more awkward to say “I hope he or she comes back for it, why don’t we put it in lost and found for him or her”.

Framing it this way can help others overcome any initial awkwardness if they’re skeptical.

Encourage people to practice when you’re not around

Realize change can be hard for some people so you can ask them to not use any gendered language for you if they’re struggling.

There are also a handful of other pronouns like xe/xem/zyr or ze/hir/hirs which could feel better to you. It might take people a little more practice though since these are less well-known. Practice correcting people quickly and casually, then move on and recruit friends to correct others on your behalf so it’s not all up to you.

3. Name and gender marker

Some nonbinary people change their name after they come out to something that feels better represents them, especially if their birth name is highly gendered. If you look around, there are plenty of names that can fall right in that sweet androgynous zone. Baby name websites are a great resource for finding these, and it’s okay if it takes a few tries to get one that feels right. Test running a new name in online spaces or when ordering coffee are good, low-pressure options.

Changing your gender marker to a neutral “X” might also be an option in your area. Be aware though, right now, it’s only an option for state documents like driver licenses in a few US states.

4. Appearance

It’s important to remember there’s not a “right way” to look nonbinary. However, some people find more freedom to embrace different presentations once they release the need to conform to a specific gender. Consider playing with your presentation to embrace a wider range of styles to see what feels good.

Some NB’s choose to go on hormones or have surgery to change their appearance. If this is something you’re thinking about, make sure to do your research – both on what your area’s laws are and on hormones’ effects. Some changes can’t be reversed.

You might have heard about some nonbinary people going on “low dose” hormones but this option needs a disclaimer

There isn’t one “low dose” that works for everyone. What might be a low dose for one person could be high for someone else, it depends on your body’s unique physiology. Doses only determine how quickly the changes occur, not which changes you’ll experience. For a lot of people, hormones will cause them to eventually be read as the opposite gender and there’s no universal timeline for when that will happen. If that’s not something you want, do your research and of course, talk to your doctor.

Remember that it’s okay to try on some, all, or none of these things when you realize you’re nonbinary. In fact, you don’t even have to come out if you don’t want to or aren’t ready. The important part is letting yourself explore all the options available to you, not just those that are limited to the binary.

Nothing is set in stone either, it’s okay to let this be an ongoing discovery, wherever it may lead!

Sharing such a big part of yourself requires a strong support system so make sure you have people you can talk to. Look for trans support groups and NB inclusive therapists in your area, check out Facebook groups and connect with others online – there’s more support out there than you might realize. Try to find things that reaffirm your (a)gender as well, whether it’s jewelry, a piece of clothing, or even a hobby.

P.S. If you’re not confident with how sex works without a binary, look out for our crash course next week!

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